It’s been a staple of the Phoenix Productions playbook for nearly 25 years, one of those crowd-pleasing Broadway perennials to which the Red Bank-based semipro stage company has made regular revisits.
Still, it’s been some 10 seasons since West Side Story has received a fully-fleshed Phoenix staging. And when the curtain goes up this Friday night at the Count Basie Theatre, it will reveal an old favorite that’s infused with new energy, courtesy of a youthful cast of newcomers highlighted by two residents of the Greater Red Bank green.
Starring as Tony — former leader of neighborhood gang the Jets, and the male half of the tragically star-crossed romance, set in a vintage vision of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen — is Rumson native Mason Kugelman, a 2011 graduate of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, and an aspiring educator scheduled to graduate from Brookdale Community College this fall with a degree in History. A veteran of major roles at Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre (Oklahoma!, South Pacific) and Spring Lake Community House, Kugelman sees the musical’s transposition of Romeo and Juliet to the battle-scarred turf of the gang wars as bearing a message that’s “simple, yet important… it doesn’t matter who you are and what your background is, you have to be accepting of everyone.”
Playing opposite Kugelman as Maria, the Puerto Rican girl whose family is personified by protective brother Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, is soprano Christa Dalmazio, a resident of the Leonardo section of Middletown, and a 2012 Ranney School graduate whose accomplishments include winning a vocal music scholarship from the Monmouth Civic Chorus.
They’ll be sharing the stage with Matthew Giove as Bernardo, Alisha Dishon as Anita, Chris Lorenc as Riff, and a large supporting cast of actors from all over New Jersey and the New York metro area; many of them new to the boards of the famous Basie stage. Add the magnificent score of songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (“Tonight,” “Maria,” “Somewhere,” “America”) and the dependably high production values of the Phoenix team, and you’ve got a theatrical experience that offers performances at 8 p.m. on July 14, 15, 21 and 22, plus 3 p.m. Sunday matinees on July 16 and 23.
Take it here for tickets ($22 – $32) to any of the shows — and take it back to the Basie on September 15, when the Phoenix season resumes with Sondheim’s Tony winning Into the Woods.